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Throughout the three decades of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Israeli au-thorities seemed to wink at the culture of noncompliance that flourished

in many sectors of the economy. The Knesset's environmental laws theo-retically adopted a “polluter pays” ethos, and the Environmental Protection Service was among the first to trumpet this slogan.[203] Reality turned the adage on its head: Pollution certainly did pay. In the absence of enforcement and meaningful deterrence, environmental responsibility led to competitive disadvantage.[204] Viewed in economic terms, it was simply bad business for corporate managers to adhere to a law with no teeth, and it was likewise obtuse politically for mayors to give up the political wind-falls they could reap for funding more popular public initiatives.

In his 1987 memoirs, Josef Tamir summed up the Israeli government's environmental record to date:

Founders of the State and all its governments and heads during the first 35 years seem to have been stunned by the glare of the powerful historical events that accompanied redemption and rebirth. The government system was a function of oppressive coalitional exigencies with a lack of any serious consideration of the subjects that needed to be prioritized: the sprawling and threatening urbanization, the industrialization that ignored the use of appropriate technologies to reduce pollution, the astonishing increase in motor vehicles without a corresponding increase in infrastructure or controls for toxic emissions. These wounded the State, the relations between humans and their environment, as well as the population's quality of life.[205]

The statistics reflected the perfunctory government commitment. An extensive economic analysis of government expenditures on the environ-ment between 1971 and 1980 indicated that, when controlling for infla-tion, there were only “relatively moderate increases, and … these are accompanied by signs of stagnation.”[206] The only substantial increase was seen in the JNF forestry budget. At the same time, it seemed that the only time Prime Ministers Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Menahem Begin remembered the existence of the Environmental Protection Service was when looking for an easy place to cut the budget.[207]

Competing ministries and agencies openly resented the growing ambi-tions of the Service and its self-righteous carping about environmental re-sponsibility. At the same time, for most of the public, the Environmental Protection Service was essentially an invisible agency; this reflected social attitudes. In the final analysis, it often seemed that the urban environment was an invisible issue. People just did not care very much about it.

Litter was one of many discouraging litmus tests. In 1984 the Knesset passed a new “Protection of Cleanliness” statute.[208] The law itself was less than the EPS had hoped for; it had lobbied unsuccessfully to include a

bottle bill (apparently distrustful of sterilization, the Minister of Health killed this section because of concerns about germs spread by reused bot-tles). Nonetheless, the law instituted several innovations to deal with Israel's seemingly incurable litter habit.[209] There was an unspoken antici-pation that Israel might face down its litter problem in the same way it had its wildflower problem twenty years earlier.

But as anyone who walked down an Israeli trash-laden street could see, the public was not interested. The apathy was exemplified in an educa-tional evening the EPS ran to promote the new law among Israel's police force. Hundreds of law enforcement personnel sent in forms expressing their intention to attend. The EPS originally considered hosting the event at an SPNI field school, but settled on renting the Beit ha-Am auditorium in Jerusalem. Nature films were acquired, cakes were ordered, and of course materials about the law printed. Two policemen showed up. One was a retiree, and the other was a musician in the police orchestra.[210]

The EPS later managed to pay for a police officer to join its staff who issued thousands of fines each year, but the penalties did not seem to make a dent in Israeli behavior. A substantial segment of the population thought nothing of tossing their used cigarettes, bottles, condoms, wrappers, and growing menu of plastics into the commons.

Curing Israel's ecological woes required strong educational medicine. Getting the message across seemed a hopeless task. For the most part, the environment was not a newsworthy story for the Israeli press. Only the Jerusalem Post and Ha-Aretz newspapers had reporters who covered en-vironmental issues, along with their other beats. Israel's one television station was completely uninterested. The public school and university system, still locked into the more traditional biology or chemistry disci-plines, was of little help.

It even appeared sometimes that Israelis inculcated environmental irre-sponsibility to their children from the tenderest of ages. After its initial publication in 1975, Alona Frankel's children's book Sir ha-Sirim was the definitive guide for toddlers about toilet training.[211] (The book was good enough to be translated into English as Once upon a Potty.) After Naftali, the protagonist, finally succeeds in leaving his diaper behind, his mother flushes the results down the toilet exclaiming, “See you in the sea!”

Marinov wrote to the book's author asking her to modify the conclud-ing section,[212] but “see you in the activated-sludge treatment facility” did not sound as good to preschool readers. The present publication continues to make marine discharges the normative waste disposal system in Israeli children's literature.


By the end of the 1980s, the Israeli public's schizophrenia about the en-vironment baffled educators and activists alike. How could a nation that flocked to SPNI hikes, voluntarily stopped picking wildflowers, and so identified itself with the natural world be so numbed to pervasive envi-ronmental deterioration? Marinov used to liken the dynamic to a person standing knee-deep in the morass of a toxic dump, with his eyes transfixed by the birds overhead.

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Israel's Urban Environment, 1948–1988
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